A Request for Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth GilbertI have long been a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing. I know people went all gaga over EPL (it was pretty great), but if you haven’t yet read The Signature of All Things you are missing out. That book is stunning. Seriously.

So I had to pick up Big Magic when it came out. I don’t usually go in for that kind of book, the I’m-a-big-star-now-I-can-tell-everyone-else-how-to-write, but this wasn’t that. I was totally charmed by the sincere, eager joy that poured off the pages.

Given that, you can imagine my excitement a few days ago when I discovered Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, Magic Lessons. The basic premise is that she helps artists who are blocked in some way to get over the fear and start doing what they are meant to do. It’s a mix of tough love, respect for art as a tradition, and excitement at the world of possibilities.

Listening to the episodes, I came to realize why my novel is sitting in a drawer. It has to do with the fact that my main character is biracial and I’m terrified of getting her wrong.

I blogged a bit about how and why she is biracial in this post. Since then, I’ve been actively seeking out biracial authors. I’ve read Heidi Durrow’s “The Girl Who Fell from the Sky,” Danielle Evans’s “Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self” (because with a title like that, how could I not?) and Crystal Chan’s “Bird.” I also stumbled onto “Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward – not a biracial story, but a fantastic book about a young black woman in a man’s world. Couldn’t put that one down.

I’ve done some homework, but I keep getting stuck on the idea that reading a bunch of books about being a half-black woman hardly qualifies me to tell the story of a half-black woman. Who am I?

My friend and writing buddy keeps encouraging me to be brave. I made a commitment to pull this story out of the drawer on September 1, and finish it up once and for all. All I have to do is get over myself and just keep writing, but for the first time in my life, the fear is getting the better of me.

Maybe Ms. Gilbert could talk me thought this one.

Liz, if you’re reading this, I could really use some magic lessons. Am I in over my head? Should I move on to another project, or do I push forward and keep writing on this one?

Continue Reading

Seven Tips for Getting Up Early to Write (Even if You’re a Night Owl)

5am writingFor many years, while I was working full time, I got up early to write before my kids woke up and things got hectic. As a die-hard night owl, adjusting to that schedule was rough. I’m not gunna lie. It took me a about eighteen months to settle in, but that was because I went about it all wrong.

If you’re a writer trying to eek out an hour a day, consider getting up early to write. Here are seven things I learned along the way that might make the process a little easier:

1. You don’t have to be a morning person. Continue Reading →

Continue Reading

Literary Events in Southern California for the week of August 22

Hi folks. I got some great responses on my first #LitLifeLA post last week. It would seem I’m not the only one who would like to be more involved in the Literary scene here in Los Angeles.

Please feel free to send me suggestions of events to include. I am checking my regular sources (bookstores, libraries, etc.), but once I filter out all the kids’ books and nonfiction I’m not finding a ton.

Here’s what I have for this week. Continue Reading →

Continue Reading

Let’s Get Our Damn Books to Agents This March

writing motivationThis is a text exchange I had recently with a good friend and fellow writer who is determined to get her debut novel out to agents this March.

We both have novels we’ve been working on for a while. A long while. Every year we say this is the year. But so far, year after year hasn’t been.

For me, the process of writing this first novel has been an education in and of itself. I’ve lost count of the number of drafts, but this is at least the fifth. I have quite literally deleted thousands of pages. It is a completely different story than it was when I started and I am a much better writer. Continue Reading →

Continue Reading

A Modern Literary Salon

Before Saturday, I had never been to a literary salon. I guess I figured they were a thing of the past. When I pictured a literary salon I saw Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, and Lytton Strachey sitting around smoking cigarettes and drinking themselves stupid while they critiqued each others writing, which sounds fun and all, but I’ve got kids.

But in the past month, I’ve been invited to two, count them two, literary salons. I attended the first on Saturday and it was fabulous. It was hosted by Barbara Abercrombie, a teacher in UCLA’s highly respected writers extension program. We met when I took a seminar from her in July, and to be fair, I kind of invited myself. Once I heard that this was happing, I knew I wanted to join, and she very graciously looped me into her email list so I could attend.

It was up in Arrowhead. If you’re not from Southern California, allow me to explain that this is far. It should be about an hour and half drive up into the mountains, except that there were 3 (!!!) accidents on the 210 eastbound that afternoon so it actually took me almost three hours in tripple-digit heat. But as soon as I got on highway 18 and began making my way up the mountain, the traffic fell away and the temperature dropped.

I stopped to take this photo from the side of the highway. It hardly does the view justice. It was lovely.
literary salon

And the long drive was totally worth it. We didn’t smoke and drink the day away. The day was mostly over by the time I got there. But it was an impressive group of creative people. I was there for about five minutes before I fell into a conversation more meaningful and interesting than I’ve had with strangers probably ever. Hours went by, and the sun went down, then Barbara fed us all lasagna and we got down to the business of reading.
literary salon

Five people read from works in progress. There was no feedback, or critique. It was just a chance to share our writing. It was awesome. It felt like I had found my people. Writers. Writers who write. Three cheers for the literary salon – who knew?

The entire evening felt like a cleansing exhale.

I wish I had been able to stay late into the night, as most of the guests did, but I had a long drive home ahead of me, so I bailed around 10 and grinned all the way home. It really was a fantastic experience.

The next literary salon I’m attending is in September. This is a newer group, hosted by a writer friend I admire very much. It will be interesting to see how the energy compares. Two big benefits to this one: it’s in Mount Washington (which is about 5 minutes from my home) and I get to bring my hubby. I can hardly wait.

Continue Reading

Literary Events in Southern California for the week of August 15, 2016

Literary Events Los AngelesWelcome to the first ever #LitLifeLA Round Up. Every Monday, I’ll share a few of the week’s upcoming events celebrating literature in Los Angeles. I intend to focus on fiction and poetry, as those are the things I’m interested in, but if something off topic looks fabtastic, I’ll include it here.

People are the Worst

Join PEN Center USA and the City of West Hollywood for a reading and reception. Featuring: Marcus Berkemeier, Martina Blumenthal, John Boucher, Carlos Castellanos, Diane Forte, Mou Khan, Mary Serradas, Alixen Pham and Laura Tate

Thursday, August 18, 2016
Book Soup
8818 Sunset Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069
RSVP HERE: https://www.facebook.com/events/1140963365994943/

Forrest Leo discusses and signs The Gentleman in West Hollywood

A funny, fantastically entertaining debut novel, in the spirit of Wodehouse and Monty Python, about a famous poet who inadvertently sells his wife to the devil–then recruits a band of adventurers to rescue her. When Lionel Savage, a popular poet in Victorian London, learns from his butler that they’re broke, he marries the beautiful Vivien Lancaster for her money, only to find that his muse has abandoned him.

Friday, August 19, 2016
7:00 PM
Book Soup
8818 Sunset Boulevard
West Hollywood, California


The Brand Book to Art Club combines reading, discussion, and art-making! Enjoy light refreshments, book discussion, and an art project based on themes from the book The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman. Art supplies will be provided. Sign-up at Brand Library in-person, by email to info@brandlibrary.org or by phone at 818-548-2051.

Saturday, August 20, 2016
10:30 AM
Brand Library and Art Center
1601 W Mountain Street
Glendale, California 91201

Continue Reading

On Writing Well

on writing wellA couple of years back, I taught a class on writing well.

My students were super smart engineers, who happened to write poorly. The aim wasn’t to turn them into brilliant storytellers, but rather, to ensure that they could communicate their ideas clearly. Because it doesn’t matter if you’re the most brilliant scientist to ever live. If you can’t impart your ideas with the written word, your reach will be limited to the number of people you can personally talk to and your ideas will die with you.

I’ve been thinking about that class a lot lately. I enjoyed teaching it, but more than that, I found a deep satisfaction in turning poor writers into capable ones. If I managed to teach one person that quotation marks should never be used for emphasis, I will have left this world a little better than I found it.

Inspired by this experience, I’m considering creating a downloadable cheat sheet of writing tips, something that could be easily shared and sent to coworkers to help them write well. It would be the kind of thing that a supervisor could send to someone whose written communications could use a little polish. It would be aimed at smart people who, for whatever reason, simply never learned to put their periods inside the quotation marks.

I might even set this up as a service. Say you have a smart coworker who can’t write for shit. You could send me their email, and I would send them the guide with a note that someone cared enough about their career to ask me to help them out.

If you work in an office, and tend toward grammar nerdery, you’ve probably cringed at the writing of a co-worker. What are your biggest pet peeves? What would you include in a writing cheat sheet like the one I’m describing? You can leave a comment here, or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter. I won’t tell your coworkers, promise.

Continue Reading

My Updated Submission Spreadsheet

Updated submission spreadsheetA few months back I shared a submission spreadsheet that I created in Google docs to track when and where I submit my short stories. If you missed that post, you can check it out here for a full explanation of what this thing is all about.

Since then, I have finished other short stories and have started submitting those as well. As I tossed those stories into the mix, it quickly became apparent that the spreadsheet needed a face lift. And since I’m not the only one out there submitting short stories to journals, I thought I would share the new and improved submission spreadsheet with all my fellow writers out there.

You can download the updated submission spreadsheet here.

And to help you make the most of it, here is a brief explanation of what each of the columns is for.

A. Status
This is usually “Submitted” or “Passed.” It sometimes says “ACCEPTED!” It is, clearly, the status of my submission. As a side note, I tend to grey out the rows with the status of Pass. It makes for easier scanning of the table as a whole.

B. My Rank
Generally I rank my submission priorities by circulation numbers (the way I figure, the larger a journal’s circulation, the more eyes will see my story). However, Column B is my acknowledgement that size isn’t everything. I use tiers and rank journals a 1, 2, or 3. So a journal that has a smaller circulation and would otherwise be low on my list, may still get a 1 because I really like it, or my story fits a themed issue they have coming up, or something.

C. Story Submitted
This is a key new column that I added when I started having more than one story out in the world at a time. You need to know what story you sent to which journal.

D. Date Submitted
A good thing to keep track of. Most journals don’t want to hear from you, but I feel like if it has been four months, it’s okay to drop them a line.

E. Name of Journal/Contest
Nuf said.

F. Submission Window
I found that while I was researching places to send my story I often came across journals that weren’t accepting submissions until, say, the first of September. So I make a note of the submission window.

G. Cost to Submit
The cost of submitting is something I’ve become hyper-aware of lately, as I am submitting more and more. This is simply for me to help budget future submissions. It’s also kind of depressing, and you can totally ignore that column if you want to.

H. Circulation
Not all journals list their circulation, but if they do, or if I can find it on Poets & Writers, I make a note of it. See B for my reasoning behind this.

I. Max Word/Page Count
Again, I found this useful as I started submitting more than one story at a time. I have some stories that are short (1,500 words) and some that are longer (15,000 words). Most journals have a range they’re looking for.

J. Prize or Payment
I tend to give priority to any journal or contest that actually pays cash money. Given how much I am spending to send things out (see G), it would be nice to be paid in more than copies.

So there you have it, the updated submission spreadsheet.

If you’ve made any modifications, or if you have your own method for tracking submissions, I would love to hear about them. This is, more than anything, an ongoing project and I am always looking for ways to improve on my methods.

Continue Reading